Rep. John Garamendi said that the federal government should demand stronger rail cars “right now” to begin to address public fears after a series of explosions on trains hauling crude oil across the United States and Canada.
Shipments of crude into California are set to increase by some 48 million barrels this year. Valero Energy Corp. has plans to ramp up production at its Benicia facility — increasing the amount of crude carried through Davis and other communities helpless to regulate them.
It may be possible for the Department of Transportation to tighten regulations on its own, without waiting for Congress to act, said Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.
“We’re moving forward. This is a big issue,” he said. “For me, go to the high standards right now and make it in America. This is an opportunity for us to enhance the American manufacturing sector: build those cars here with American steel.”
Sturdier rail cars also ought to include rubber bladders as cushioning, he said.
About 90 people attended Garamendi’s open question-and-answer session at the Community Chambers on Saturday. It was the third of three he held at sites across the district that day.
Among the other issues he addressed: water, hydraulic fracturing and the struggle of environmentalists to be heard.
Asked about California’s high-speed rail project, Garamendi said it presented the opportunity to increase safety by creating an alternative line for commuters while upgrading the Capitol Corridor, but that it won’t happen anytime soon — or ever.
A longtime supporter of high-speed rail, he expressed frustration that the project will begin in Madera, in the Central Valley, rather than, say, between San Diego and Los Angeles or between San Francisco and San Jose, places where trains could serve millions of people sooner.
“I’m very concerned about the choices that have been made,” he said. “I think the result of this is that high-speed rail isn’t going to go anywhere.”
Garamendi returned again to touting his water plan for the state that focuses on conservation and off-stream storage — and bashing Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $28 billion twin-tunnel plan to move water south from the delta.
The congressman says his plan would create 5 million acre-feet of “new” water for half the cost of the tunnels, which would cause irreparable environmental damage.
He tied together his fellow Democrat’s tunnel plan to a House GOP bill passed last week that would end efforts to override environmental protections for the delta, end work to reconnect the San Joaquin River to the ocean and ship water to Central Valley farms, instead.
“If you can imagine if the tunnels were there today, and they were able to get the votes in the Senate, what would happen to the waters of Northern California,” Garamendi said. “They’d be in the tunnels, they wouldn’t be in the bay or San Francisco or the delta.”
Among the projects he said that he “strongly” supported: the proposed Sites Reservoir, which would flood 14,000 acres of Antelope Valley near Maxwell. It would store more water than Folsom Reservoir, with most of the stored water diverted from the Sacramento River.
He said he expects a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., soon that is aimed at moving that project forward.
Garamendi said the state also should turn to new technology to save water. UC Davis scientists have told him that readily available satellite, ground sensor and other technology could be used to save as much as 30 percent on irrigation for row crops, 14 percent for tree crops.
A project on the American River is showing how the stream monitoring could be done in real time. Better monitoring of the snow pack is needed, he said, and drones could even be used to provide better information on storm systems.
Asked about fracking, Garamendi said it needs to be “heavily regulated.”
“There’s no good regulatory system to regulate what the chemicals are, to let the communities know what’s going on, to deal with aquifers and the like,” he said. “California is moving in that direction. There’s a lot of controversy about it. People feel that it’s not strong enough (legislation), and that’s probably true.”
He was more pessimistic when asked about the possibility of slowing the shipment of coal to developing countries and imposing a carbon tax. Both would run into powerful forces in Washington, he said.
He called a carbon tax “an elegant system,” which has some support from the energy sector, but said “it isn’t going to happen. The Republicans control the House of Representatives, so, no, it isn’t going to happen.”
Garamendi said he would support a modified version of the plan by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, to allow salvage logging on thousands of acres of federal land near Yosemite National Park ravaged by last year’s Rim Fire, with money raised put toward rehabilitating the forest.
McClintock’s bill passed the House. Without changes, it likely will die in the Democratically controlled Senate — just as the GOP drought plan is forecasted to do.
The bill “pushes aside environmental laws,” Garamendi said. He said he has urged McClintock to add a shortened time for environmental review and an arbitration process.
Garamendi encouraged local environmentalists to write letters, demonstrate and attend town hall meetings to make their voices heard on their concerns, but he acknowledged they face a tough battle in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.
It allowed for the rise of the so-called super PACs, independent political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals.
Garamendi said he would support a constitutional amendment imposing campaign financing limits.
“Don’t hold your breath” on that ever receiving the necessary federal and state approval, though. More progress can be made pushing for more robust disclosure laws, instead, he said.
“If you have robust disclosure, it will dampen the enthusiasm of these super PACs,” Garamendi said. “They don’t want to be known. They don’t want people to know what they’re up to.”